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Six Lessons in Critical Thinking from a Professional Critical Thinker

06/09/2015 06:45 pm ET | Updated Jun 09, 2016

We sat down with Risa Mish, Professor of Critical Thinking, Problem Solving and Leadership at Cornell University, for Spartan Up! The Podcast to find out how to maximize our own critical thinking. Through her research, Mish found that analytical thinking, developing interpersonal relationships, and finding a sense of purpose are key elements that are often overlooked in business and in life.

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Risa Mish

Mish, a Senior Lecturer of Management at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, offered the following lessons for success:

1. Being "Successful" Means Finding a Sense of Purpose

Honing in on a sense of purpose is the formula for developing resilience and finding motivation and happiness in life. Part of the process is actually finding out what is specifically important instead of assuming everything is important. "We can have more fulfilling careers if we can focus on the purpose," Mish explains. "Once you identify your 'why' it's much easier to excel at your 'how.'"

2. Be Wary of Assumptions

People assume that more experience is always better -- the assumption being the learning curve is shorter and the results will be easier to achieve. However, Mish explains that basing critical decisions on preset assumptions can cause an individual to overlook the important differences a group of people brings to the table. "In what context did my experience arise?" Mish asks.

Instead of making assumptions -- question everything. There may be better, more efficient styles that you are missing because you have just accepted the norm.

3. Focus on Resiliency

A core component to success is being exposed to the unknown -- that means training when you don't feel like it, working when others give up, and performing a task with an open mind. "What worked before doesn't always work the next time. You have to have more options and a broader palette," Mish says. Being resilient does not just mean being tough, it means being flexible in light of unforeseen scenarios.

4. Be Honest About Your Biases

Everyone has biases and it is unreasonable to say, "I have none." According to Mish, "There are a few ways to counteract a bias. One is experience. The other is to look for disconfirming evidence -- actively search for it." Enter a scenario with expectations of why something might not work in advance. This strategy involves imagining ways to succeed when things do not go according to plan. Mish advises students and clients to "flip their assumptions" to understand that opposing viewpoints are good. Examine your social and business circles and look to vary them up.

5. Develop a Mitigation Strategy

How we react to a situation makes all the difference. When situations threaten to get out of hand, remember that we cannot control everything. According to Mish, identifying the core problem involves studying the situation and developing a mitigation strategy. It is essential to asking the question, "Why might this not work?" She encourages clients and students to partake in a "pre-mortem," in which she asks, "Imagine you failed...why did that happen?"

This strategy allows people to build mitigation strategies on the front-end to figure out alternative plans in advance.

6. Broaden Your Experience Set

"When we over-generalize on the basis on experience, which is what stereotyping is, it's because our dataset is so narrow. So you want to go out of your way to spend time with people who are radically different," says Mish. View new experiences as new opportunities. Branch out, listen to alternative viewpoints, and keep a fresh outlook.

Spartan Up! The Podcast can be found at www.spartanuppodcast.com, on iTunes, Stitcher, and YouTube.

To find a Spartan Race in your area, visit: www.spartan.com.

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